Overall rating: 3.5/5
While the new Fiat 500L Trekking does not have the badge kudos of its MINI adversary it does have similar retro-chic styling that will appeal to some buyers. This rating is a bit provisional though, as we're awaiting prices and specifications for the Irish market
In the metal 3.5/5
The shape of the Fiat 500L has already divided opinion with some loathing the classic 500 looks on an oversized body while others love it. There is no doubting that of the three 'big' 500s the Trekking wears its skin the best. The proportions of the compact SUV sit better than those of the regular 500L and the larger MPW model. It still can look a bit dumpy from certain angles but in a world that has given us the MINI Countryman and Paceman the Trekking sits well.
Fiat describes the Trekking as the 'wild side' of the 500 family and has gone with the tried and trusted method of raising the ride height (15mm over the 500L), sticking on some protective cladding around the extremities and fitting larger alloys. In this particular shade of Hip Hop Yellow it certainly attracted attention on the streets of Milan.
Space inside is generous for a car with such a small footprint. Legroom, both front and rear, is generous with the ability to slide the rear 60/40 splitting seats forward to boost the load space from 412- to 455 litres. Should you require more room the seats fold-and-tumble forwards with a simple tug of a handle to reveal a 1,480-litre space, though with a floor that is not flat some items may be more difficult to get in than others.
Driving it 3/5
Fiat's combination MacPherson strut and torsion beam suspension does a commendable job of keeping body roll in check but with a ride height of 145mm it is inevitable that the 500L Trekking would tend to lean into corners more than you would like. New frequency dependent shock absorbers react to road conditions meaning that when you are done rolling there is very little road vibration making its way into the car.
The 1.6-litre MultiJet II engine is the most expensive unit that can be paired with the Trekking specification, offering the same 105hp as the TwinAir petrol unit, but with economy of 60.1mpg. Fiat describes the 350Nm of torque that is available from as little as 1,750rpm as 'best in class', but you still have to work both the engine and the six-speed transmission to make decent progress. Through early morning Milan traffic we found ourselves being beeped for not making it away from traffic lights quick enough. It is noisy too when pushed but this settles down to a gentle hum when cruising along.
The Trekking features Fiat's Traction Plus system that mimics the behaviour of a locking differential to attempt to improve traction on low-grip surfaces. We got to test this (and the Mud&Snow tyres that will be fitted as standard) on a gentle off-road segment and the car never put a foot wrong.
What you get for your money 3.5/5
The Trekking sits above the regular 500L range though is likely to only be available in Lounge specification. While Irish specifications have yet to be released, it's expected that buyers will get a lot for their money, with City Brake Control joining the Traction Plus system, a five-inch touchscreen stereo with Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, 17-inch alloys and auto lights and wipers amongst the standard specification.
With just one trim on offer, buyers are left to choose between the 95hp 1.4-litre petrol engine, 900cc TwinAir, 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel (available with manual or automatic transmissions) and the 1.6-litre MultiJet diesel driven here. After that it is a case of choosing from colours such as Opera Red and Beatbox Green and either a white or black roof.
While the Traction Plus system allows Fiat to say that there is no need for a four-wheel drive Trekking there is a further model to come that may appeal to those that want four driven wheels. We caught a glimpse of the 500x at the launch of the 500L last year and that car is still in development. Set to be based on the 'Custom Wide' platform from Chrysler the architecture will also spawn a small Jeep, and both cars are likely to be offered in 4x2 and 4x4 variants. Expect it to arrive towards the end of 2014.
The Fiat 500 family expansion continues unabated with the Trekking model being the model that makes the most sense. Unlike MPV output, compact SUV sales are up and likely to keep growing, so it is important for Fiat to get in early. While far from perfect the 500L Trekking offers the rugged looks that buyers crave with a usability and practicality that families will appreciate.